Sunday, March 30, 2008

ACMI Focus on John Cassavetes

The latest addition to my Calendar of Film Events is ACMI's Focus on John Cassavetes. Of Cassavetes' work, I've only seen Opening Night, which opened the 2007 season at Melbourne Cinémathèque. Based on my favourable experience and also passionate word-of-mouth by others (including Matt Clayfield), I'm keen to see as many of these films as possible.

The Focus on John Cassavetes screens 15-25 May. Check out my calendar for dates, or ACMI for full details. A summary from ACMI's website is below:

Opening Night

M, John Cassavetes, 144 mins, USA, 1977, 35mm.

Pedro Almodóvar lovingly paid tribute to Cassavetes' ninth feature in All About My Mother (1999).

Featuring one of Cassavetes' signature fractured women - an actress grappling with aging and the vagaries of life in the theatre - Opening Night was largely ignored in the U.S. on its initial release but is now considered one of his major works.

The emotional rawness Cassavetes elicits from his actors comes to the fore in Gena Rowland's performance as Myrtle Gordon, an actress for whom the boundaries between her on-stage persona and her personal life are painfully blurred.

Imported print. "A meditation on the enigma and loneliness of being beautiful" Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Thu 15 May 2008, 7pm
Sun 25 May 2008, 6pm


PG, John Cassavetes, 82 mins, USA, 1959, 35mm, B&W.

Cassavetes' seminal, directorial debut centres on three African-American siblings grappling with love and angst in the jazz-soaked, beat-infused streets of 1950s New York.

The use of largely non-professional actors and seemingly improvised dialogue (the film was, in fact, almost entirely scripted), set the blueprint for future Cassavetes masterworks.

In its analysis of love - and the lack of it - Shadows explores a theme that Cassavetes returns to throughout his film career.

Imported print. "Arguably the founding work of the American independent cinema" J. Hoberman, Village Voice

Fri 16 May 2008, 7pm

Too Late Blues

Unclassified 18+, John Cassavetes, 103 mins, USA, 1961, 35mm.

After the independently produced Shadows, Cassavetes' foray into studio filmmaking surprisingly stars crooner Bobby Darin as a struggling jazz pianist fighting to maintain his integrity in the cut-throat world of the music business.

As an actor, Cassavetes was more than familiar with the studio style, but as a director he initially deemed this project to be a failure.

With hindsight, Too Late Blues is now considered one of the more impressive films made about the jazz scene and is a worthy inclusion in the director's filmography.

Imported print (with German subtitles).

Fri 16 May 2008, 9pm


M, John Cassavetes, 131 mins, USA, 1968, 35mm, B&W.

Adapted from a stage play, Faces depicts the unmasking of American society in the mid-1960s, filtered through the breakdown of a typical middle class marriage.

Dissatisfied with his output as an actor-for-hire, Cassavetes returned to personal filmmaking with this gem and continued his assault on the conventions of the Hollywood aesthetic.

Taking six months to shoot and a phenomenal three years of post-production, Faces is considered by many as his masterpiece.

Imported print. "The sort of film that makes you want to grab people by the neck, drag them into the theatre and shout: 'Here!'" Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Sat 17 May 2008, 4pm

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

M, John Cassavetes, 109 mins, USA, 1976, 35mm.

Cassavetes' brilliant noir excursion is the perfect fusion between his ramshackle world of lovable losers and the more traditional conventions of Hollywood genre filmmaking.

At its centre, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie offers a compelling character study of an affable nightclub owner at the end of his luck (played with grizzled charm by Cassavetes regular, Ben Gazzara), who is forced to pay a mounting gambling debt by 'taking out' the Chinese bookie of the film's title.

"A post-noir masterpiece" Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

Sat 17 May 2008, 6.30pm
Thu 22 May 2008, 9.15pm


Unclassified 18+, John Cassavetes, 138 mins, USA, 1970, 35mm.

Three friends (played by Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Cassavetes) are sent into a midlife tailspin after the untimely death of a close friend.

Many of the scenes in Husbands were developed around the off-set friendship between the three male leads and expose deep emotional truths that infuse the film with a stark and unsentimental vitality.

Sat 17 May 2008, 9pm
Tue 20 May 2008, 7pm

A Constant Forge - The Life and Art of John Cassavetes

M, Charles Kiselyak, 200 mins, USA, 2000, digital betacam, colour and B&W.

This fascinating, in-depth analysis of Cassavetes' films assembles new interviews with many key players and footage of the filmmaker candidly discussing his work methods and philosophies on art, creativity and life.

Most of Cassavetes' major works are covered, including The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, Shadows, Faces and A Woman Under the Influence.

Ensemble regulars Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara and longtime collaborators such as producer and cinematographer Al Ruban, also contribute revealing anecdotes about American cinema's pre-eminent maverick.

Sun 18 May 2008, 4pm
Fri 23 May 2008, 7pm

Love Streams

M, John Cassavetes, 141 mins, USA, 1984, 35mm.

Many of the themes which preoccupied Cassavetes throughout his career come together in Love Streams.

Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands play siblings - he a cynical Hollywood writer and Rowlands his emotionally unstable sister - trying to navigate their way through messy and complicated love lives.

As emotionally raw and heartfelt as any Cassavetes film, Love Streams offers an exhilarating portrait of two people whose worlds are falling apart as they desperately try to hold fast to the possibility of love.

Mon 19 May 2008, 7pm
Sat 24 May 2008, 9.15pm


M, John Cassavetes, 123 mins, USA, 1980, 35mm.

A winning variation on the classic odd couple theme, Gloria sees Gena Rowlands playing the titular character, an ex-girlfriend of a gangster who unwittingly becomes the protector of a Puerto Rican boy after the murder of his family.

Largely created to showcase Rowlands' acting talents, Cassavetes' uncharacteristic genre excursion makes inventive use of ramshackle New York locales. The tough talking banter between Rowlands (who received an Oscar nomination for her performance) and her streetwise young charge helps steer the film away from over-sentimentality.

Thu 22 May 2008, 7pm

Minnie and Moskowitz

M, John Cassavetes, 114 mins, USA, 1971, 35mm.

In this defiantly romantic film, Gena Rowlands is Minnie Moore, a recently dumped museum curator who crosses paths with Seymour Moskowitz, a free-spirited but pushy car park attendant played by Seymour Cassel.

By skewing the romantic comedy template, Minnie and Moskowitz offers two emotionally larger-than-life characters who are by turns, infuriating, manic and endearing.

This is Cassavetes at his most playful and demonstrates the depth of the director as an artist.

Imported print. "Cassavetes' career of risk-taking comes to a climax in this rich, original, magnificent film" Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Sat 24 May 2008, 4pm

A Woman Under the Influence

M, John Cassavetes, 147 mins, USA, 1974, 35mm.

The crowning centrepiece of Cassavetes' remarkable career, A Woman Under the Influence encapsulates his drive to explore the messy and painful nature of love and familial life.

At the film's core is the brilliant, and at times unbearably raw, Oscar-nominated performance by Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes' frequent ensemble player and real-life wife. Rowlands plays Mabel Longhetti, a woman pushed to the brink of madness as she struggles to integrate herself into the chaotic ebb and flow of family life.

Imported print. "Its dramatic power rivals that of Faces, or any other work of drama or fiction" Dan Schneider, culturevulture

Sat 24 May 2008, 6.30pm

Big Trouble

M, John Cassavetes, 93 mins, USA, 1986, 35mm.

In his last film, Cassavetes ironically returned to studio filmmaking with this all-out comedy based on a screenplay by veteran scribe Andrew Bergman (under the pseudonym Warren Bogle).

With a plot premised on a murder scheme that indirectly references Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, this film nonetheless reworks familiar Cassavetes motifs, most particularly his exploration of flawed characters and loaded relationships.

Though an atypical work by Cassavetes, Big Trouble breezes along, buoyed by the energetic performances of Alan Arkin, Peter Falk and Beverly D'Angelo.

Sun 25 May 2008, 4pm

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I love Cassavetes too. One of my film studies lecturers years ago did his PhD on JC and evangelized as much as possible. It stuck.

My favourite is Husbands. One of the handful of films I can watch over and over and still get a real buzz from.

Also, the first time was a trip after only ever seeing Peter Falk in Columbo!